10 Top Vacation Ideas for Families with Teens

Taking photos on a beach in Holland, Michigan Kendra Kamp on Unsplash

Updated September 3, 2019

Curious and active, teens can be great travelers, especially when they're involved in the decision-making and given plenty of downtime for relaxing and bonding. But you may need some help getting started, depending on what you and your teen are interested in—outdoor adventures, lounging by the sea, gorging on local culture, or gorging on local cuisine. Here are some ideas for putting together a vacation that everyone in the family will cherish for years to come.

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Jungle Vacation: O.A.R.S. Costa Rica James Kaiser, O.A.R.S.

On a weeklong OARS multisport trip in the summer, sample Costa Rica's eco-adventures paired with lodge-based comforts. From riverside Rios Tropicales Lodge, not far from the Gulf coast, you and your teens paddle the swift-moving Pacuare River, glide through the rainforest canopy on a zipline, and cool off by jumping into waterfalls. Also on the itinerary: Tortuguero National Park, where you'll wake up to the grunts of howler monkeys. While kayaking the creeks, keep an eye out for sloths slumbering in the tree branches. On a guided nighttime tour of Tortuguero’s beach, if you're lucky you may spot one of the Atlantic green sea turtles that, from June through October, climb the sands, dig nests, lay eggs, and then cover the nests before slowly lumbering back to disappear into the waves.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge, TN John Wollwerth / Shutterstock

In the Great Smoky Mountains, craggy peaks and soft ridges roll into the soft, blue, smoky mist from which the chain takes its name. For 70 miles, these dramatic mountains straddle the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. There’s plenty of time for long talks on hikes that meander through shady woods to scenic overlooks and to tumbling waterfalls. But even the most nature-loving teen welcomes a day with some manmade attractions. That’s why a good family base is Pigeon Forge, not far from the Gatlinburg park entrance. The town offers touristy restaurants, souvenir and candy shops, and the Dollywood theme park. Rides include the Lightning Rod, a wooden roller coaster with a top speed of 73 miles per hour.

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Windsurfing in Aruba Aruba Tourism

Aruba’s constant breezes and stretches of calm seas make it a wind-sports mecca. The epitome of Caribbean cool is to glide across the water, changing direction with ease. Head over to Hadicurari Beach to watch the experts, or sign up for kiteboarding and windsurfing lessons on Palm Beach, a popular spot good for socializing and people-watching. For off-the-sands fun, take a guided jeep tour of the rugged northern coast, a landscape of rocky shores and fast-breaking surf. Animal lovers can ride horses at Arikok National Park and meet the big birds at the Ostrich Farm.

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International city: Barcelona ismel leal pichs / Shutterstock

Barcelona, a flamboyant mix of wide boulevards, medieval neighborhoods, and beaches, gives teens plenty of places to meander—and the Spanish rhythms of afternoon siestas and late–night dining match adolescent scheduling preferences. On La Rambla, the city’s premier promenade, surrender to a whirl of cafes, shops, flower stalls, and street performers. The creations of architect Antoni Gaudí should give everybody something to talk about, especially his Sagrada Familia, an unfinished cathedral of twisting shapes and spiral staircases. He was also responsible for the brightly colored, almost hallucinatory Park Güell (pictured) on Carmel Hill. The Museu Picasso, meanwhile, displays many of that master's early works, even some he did when he was a teenager himself.

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All-inclusive resort: Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic Club Med

If you pick an all-inclusive resort, you can play the good cop for a change, saying yes to pretty much anything because most activities and meals are covered in your room rate. The Dominican Republic's Club Med Punta Cana keeps teens busy with action-packed activities: sailing, tennis, archery, and windsurfing during the day, followed by beach parties and movies in the evenings. The resort's circus arts program invites guests of all ages to learn how to fly on a trapeze, dance on stilts, and build structurally sound human pyramids.

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Royal Caribbean ships Royal Caribbean International

Cruises are crammed with nonstop activities, unlimited food, and a boatload of other teens for yours to mingle with—plus stops at interesting ports and fun-filled private islands such as CocoCay from Royal Caribbean. That cruise line is great for teens because it splits up programs for ages 12–14 and 15–17, arranging pastimes that challenge and engage both groups. On many Royal Caribbean ships there's rock climbing, ice skating, and the chance to wipe out in spectacular fashion on the FlowRider surf simulator. And the company continues to one-up itself, installing bumper cars, skydiving simulators, multideck slides, 3-D movie theaters, and much more.

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Cycling in Croatia Blazej Lyjak / Shutterstock

You taught your kids how to ride a two-wheeler. Now reap the rewards by bicycling with them along Croatia’s scenic Dalmatian Coast. Opt for a summertime tour from Backroads and you can have your trip tailored to every demographic from pint-size pedalers to older teens and beyond. There’s time for family togetherness as you cycle along winding roads with sweeping sea views, pass vineyards and olive groves, pause in fishing villages, and enjoy a boat trip when you take a break.

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Island Culture: Beach and Adventures, Maui, HI LUC KOHNEN / Shutterstock

Maui is nothing like your typical beach destination. Take surfing lessons, learn to paddle an outrigger canoe, and snorkel in a semi-submerged volcanic crater. Inland, hike rainforest trails and explore Haleakala, the island’s dormant volcano (pictured, at sunrise). Intrepid visitors can bike the windy roads that lead from the peak's nearly 10,000-foot-high summit down to sea level. For some local culture, reserve tickets to Napili Kai Beach Resort’s Wednesday evening slack-key guitar show and get to know one of Hawaii's homegrown music styles. 

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Mountain vacation: Park City, Utah  Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock

Park City is a top-rated ski resort, but even without snow the place delivers thrills. In the warmer months, you can zoom through the treetops on a zipline, soar above the countryside in a hot air balloon, play disc golf, and glide down a 3,000-foot alpine slide. Ride the chairlift up the mountain and either pedal down on bikes or hike along woodsy trails. Instead of a hotel, book a condo to get more space for your money—and, if possible, a separate room for the kids for when everybody needs some time apart.

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Resort Sport: Tennis, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, SC OzarksRazorback [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The focus of Kiawah Island Golf Resort might be right there in the name, but the tennis instruction is excellent, too. Located on South Carolina's coast, the resort has separate programs for adults, tweens, and teens at various levels of play, from beginner to ready for Wimbledon. Off the court, stroll the 10-mile-long beach, swim in the ocean, kayak the creeks that lace the marshes, and go on a day trip to nearby Charleston, about 45 minutes south, for historic sights and shopping.

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